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Thursday, 19 December 2013

Discontent in High Places

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Even though the motive is political, the issues raised by Olusegun Obasanjo are grave enough for adequate response
In the last one week, two letters, one by former President Olusegun Obasanjo and another by the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, have been playing in the public domain. They both roundly indict the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan.
While the CBN Governor in his letter expressed concerns about the non-remittance of an estimated $49.8 billion of oil proceeds to the Federation Account by the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Obasanjo was more sweeping in his concerns ranging from executive impunity and recklessness to tacit complicity in acts of corruption and outright insensitivity to the feelings of Nigerians.
In similar vein, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Aminu Tambuwal on Monday said pointedly that President Goodluck Jonathan’s “body language doesn’t tend to support the fight against corruption”.
Taken together, these expressions of discontent cannot be ignored first on account of the political status of the complainants. More importantly, the contents of these communications happen to tally roughly with the feelings of a broad majority of Nigerians. In sum, there is an emerging consensus that the quality of political leadership and governance being provided by the Jonathan administration falls below the minimum public expectation.
Worse of all, the moral foundation of the nation has been vastly eroded by industrial scale corruption among high public officials to the consternation of both Nigerians and foreign observers. It is the totality of these concerns that unites Obasanjo’s letter and that of Sanusi with the strong indictment of the president by the House Speaker.
However, of greater symbolic importance is the 18-page letter by Obasanjo to whom President Jonathan largely owes his political ascendancy. Until very recently, Obasanjo was the de facto leader of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and on account of having led the nation first as a military head of state and later as an elected president, he carries tremendous political gravity among Nigerians and the international community.
Therefore, both his concern and arsenal of information should be unassailable. Unfortunately, given that the issues raised in his letter require serious consideration, it is very disappointing that the Presidency has reacted, rather hastily, with more of invectives than a reasoned argument and constructive engagement.
Needless to say, some of the allegations made by Obasanjo in his letter are such that threaten individual rights and are incompatible with the exercise of democratic freedoms. There are also some aspects that impinge on national security. Take for instance the allegation that the administration is training snipers at a secret location and has also put over 1000 Nigerians on a political watch list.
Coming from a man like Obasanjo, this is a rather weighty allegation that ought to be properly investigated by the security agencies and the relevant committees of the National Assembly. Obasanjo also insinuated that the judiciary is being deliberately manipulated not only to pervert the course of justice but also to achieve some political objectives.
It is bad enough that the institutional channels of public accountability through which the president should have accounted to the nation on these matters are largely in retreat. The National Assembly seems hardly interested in seeking a higher level of accountability from the executive. On its part, the executive holds civil society in disdain.
Yet given the sensitive nature of some of the issues raised in Obasanjo’s letter, President Jonathan should find it necessary to enhance the public accountability of his administration by minimally providing factual responses to them. While the motives and timing of the letter may indeed have everything to do with politics, the contents are matters of grave public concern. Therefore, dismissing the letter as a vehicle for conveying a private political agenda is neither here nor there.
It is also in the interest of the president to respond to the issue of whether or not a whopping sum of $49.8 billion is yet to be accounted for by the NNPC. From what is already in the public domain, Sanusi’s letter was addressed to the president and it is from him Nigerians demand explanation. And this is not an issue that should be lost in the subterfuge of setting up another committee. What Nigerians deserve is accountability from their commander-in-chief, so that they can rest assured that contrary to some insinuation, the guard is not the thief!


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